Later start times should be implemented

October 8, 2015 — by Katherine Zhou

Although administrators can do little to prevent students from packing their schedules with tough classes and time-consuming extracurriculars, one way they can help them get more sleep is by starting school later.

Most teenagers are living in chronic sleep deprivation. According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the average teen gets between 7 and 7 ¼ hours of sleep, while they need between 9 and 9 ½ hours.

Although administrators can do little to prevent students from packing their schedules with tough classes and time-consuming extracurriculars, one way they can help them get more sleep is by starting school later.

Because teenagers come to school so early in the morning, they are forced to go against their internal biological clocks to stay awake. Dr. Max Van Gilder, a pediatrician, told Child Mind Institute that there have been multiple studies indicating that students are not fully functional until 9 a.m. Even though 43 percent of schools start before 8 a.m., at that hour the teenage body is still producing melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep cycles, which forces students to want to sleep. Look into almost any first- or fourth-period class, and you’ll likely see a group of students who should probably still be asleep.

In fact, Dr. Mark Mahowald, medical director of the Sleep Forensics Associates, told Education World that forcing students to wake up around 6 or 7 a.m. is comparable to asking adults to wake up at 3 or 4 a.m.

The National Institute of Health and the American Lung Association of New England cite early school start times as a main cause of sleep deprivation. Since 1994, numerous sleep experts and physicians, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have been advising schools to delay morning classes until after 8:30 a.m.

In a study conducted by Dr. Mary A. Carskadon, the behavior of students who transitioned from a 8:25 a.m. to 7:20 a.m. start time was recorded. Carskadon found that the students’ bedtime did not change, averaging around 10:40 p.m.  None of the students adjusted well, and none slept more than eight and a quarter hours on school nights.

Carskadon explained that by creating earlier school start times, schools expect students to simply go to bed earlier to make up for the sleep lost — a nearly  impossible task to ask of a teenager who has many activities and homework.

In fact, a Brookings Institute Report even estimated that later high school start times create a lifetime earnings gain of $17,500 per student.

There have been many success stories of schools changing to later start times. When Jackson Hole High School in Wyoming shifted its start time from 7:35 a.m. to 8:55 a.m., the number of car crashes involving teenage drivers there dropped by 70 percent.  

A 2007 study led by Holy Cross psychology professor Amy Wolfson compared two New England middle school with different start times, 7:15 a.m. and 8:37 a.m.

The results showed similar success.

Wahlstrom, the middle school with the 8:37 start time, found that attendance rates improved, enrollment remained the same or increased, grades showed slight improvement and students’ reported bedtimes did not change while they got one more vital hour of sleep on school nights.

According to StartSchoolLater.net, communities have seen reduced tardiness, sleeping in class and car crash rates, as well as improved attendance, graduation rates and standardized test scores after lowering their school start times.

Sleep deprivation is associated with obesity, migraines and immune system disruption as well as other health risk behaviors including smoking, drinking, drug abuse, fighting, physical inactivity, depression and suicidal tendencies. Sleep-deprived students participate in more violent and property crime than other teens.

As members of a committee look at a new schedules for next year, they school should look seriously at starting school later, at least past 8 a.m., to ensure that their students are functioning at the best of their ability. Sleep is essential, and by allowing students to more of it, their lives will be improved.

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